By Nicole Parmenter, Dietetic Intern for FitNutrition, LLC and Providence College Athletics with Katie Jeffrey, MS, RD, CSSD
Millions of Americans consume too much sodium. While this mineral plays an important role in our bodies it’s beneficial for your health to not consume too much. Sodium is necessary for muscle contraction and relaxation, it maintains proper water and pH levels, and it aids in conducting nerve impulses. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends no more than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon) per day per person, and 1,500 mg (about 2/3 teaspoon) per day per person for Americans over age 51, African Americans, and those with health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease.
Sadly, many Americans consume well over these amounts, exceeding 3,300 mg (an average of 1.5 teaspoons of salt) per day. Surprisingly, the true culprit is the hidden sodium in processed foods rather than the salt that’s added at the table. The problem with excess sodium consumption is the potential for developing hypertension, heart disease and stroke. “Hypertension is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide” (Davy 2015). It is estimated that reducing average sodium intake to below 2,300 mg/day would save a significant amount in health care costs and reduce the amount of hypertension cases by the millions. Multiple organizations such as the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association, as well as the creators of the DASH diet, have recognized the importance of a reduced sodium meal plan in managing hypertension and continue to work on strategies to reduce average sodium intake levels.
Even though we are hard-wired to like salty foods, the taste of salt is a learned preference that can gradually be changed. Reducing your salt intake will allow you to fully taste the natural and subtle flavors of foods. Individuals often report that their food tastes better when they use less salt or eliminate it. There are many ways to enjoy less salt. All it takes is a little creativity! Here are six creative ways to reduce your sodium intake:
6 Ways to Cut Your Salt:
- Get Fresh! Limit processed foods which can contain heavy amounts of sodium. Opt for minimally processed foods and fresh produce.
- Downsize Your Portions! Share your entrée, ask for a low-sodium menu or ask for “no additional salt.”
- Identify High-Volume Salt Sources! Items such as bread, soups, condiments, frozen pizzas, salad dressings, tomato sauces, processed deli meats and canned goods are the top hidden sources of sodium. Select foods with sodium levels less than 300 mg per serving.
- Concentrate Flavors! Try baking, roasting, grilling and searing to intensify flavors rather than boiling or steaming foods. Stronger flavors require less salt.
- Add Some Spice! Flavor enhancers such as spice rubs, fresh herbs, fresh spices, ginger and citrus flavors all impart their own robust flavors, requiring less sodium or no sodium.
- ‘Shake’ the Auto-Salt Habit! Taste your food first before adding salt. Remove the salt shaker from the table so you are not automatically inclined to add salt. When cooking or baking, keep in mind that most recipes can be made with half the amount of salt as opposed to the full amount.
Davy, Brenda M., Tanya M. Halliday, and Kevin P. Davy. Sodium Intake and Blood Pressure: New Controversies, New Labels…New Guidelines?” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 115.2 (2015): 200-203. Print.
“Salt and Sodium: The Facts.”The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 10 Feb.2015. “Tasting Success by Cutting Salt.” Mise En Place. Feb. 2012: 12-14. Print.
United States. Dept. of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. By the Center for Nutrition. Policy and Promotion. 2010. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.